Scott Kalitta ready to race in Gainesville with a little help from his friends Gainesville, Fla., (March 15, 2006) - In 1986 at historic Gainesville Raceway in Gainesville, Fla., burgeoning nitro Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta, the No. 16 ...
Scott Kalitta ready to race in Gainesville with a little help from his friends
Gainesville, Fla., (March 15, 2006) - In 1986 at historic Gainesville Raceway in Gainesville, Fla., burgeoning nitro Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta, the No. 16 qualifier, surprised the capacity crowd of NHRA drag racing fans by defeating No. 8 qualifier Johnny West in the first round of final eliminations. In 1987, West, again the No. 8 qualifier, got his revenge on Kalitta, again the No. 16 qualifier, by defeating the future star in round one of eliminations. Fast forward two decades and the two wily NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series veterans and longtime friends are ready to race again in Gainesville, but this time together against the Funny Car competition as crew chief and driver at this weekend's ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals, March 16-19.
Kalitta, a 43-year old resident of Palmetto, Fla., first got behind the controls of a nitro-powered race car 25 years ago and now pilots the new Kalitta Air Funny Car after spending most of his quarter-mile career, including last season, behind the wheel of a Top Fuel dragster. West, who got his license to drive nitro Funny Cars 34 years ago at age 17, has served as driver, team owner and most recently as crew chief. The duo has experienced almost all of the ups and the downs that the sport of drag racing can offer. In their new partnership, both feel like they are making big strides to battle with the "big boys" with their Kalitta Air entry.
"I'm really starting to get a good feeling about the whole deal," Kalitta said. "I get more comfortable driving the car with every lap we make. Johnny and Larry (Meyer, co-crew chief) have helped me out a lot. It's just a learning process, but I'm very confident we can get on a tear and win a couple of races before the season ends.
"I've known Johnny for a really long time and it's great to be finally working with him. We have a lot of fun no matter what and that's very important too."
West is also happy to be united with his new driver. "I've always thought that Scott was one of the best Funny Car drivers that I've ever seen. If I can get a good car under him, we're going to be a force to be reckoned with."
Kalitta won 17 NHRA national events and two (1994-1995) world championships in the Top Fuel class, but he garnered his first national event victory in a Funny Car in Houston in 1989, his only win to date in the class. So far in 2006, Kalitta suffered a DNQ (did not qualify) at the first event in Pomona, Calif., and qualified in the No. 16 spot at the last race in Phoenix and then won his first round match-up against No. 1 qualifier Eric Medlen.